They walked on, unsure of whether it was evening or night now, the sky remaining in a state of perpetually shifting clouds from which white light filtered over the grey landscape. Linnet Street was a wide road with small shops lining either side of it, quaint in the urban environment, some windows smashed and things appearing to have been stolen. Although it made them wonder what good would come from someone stealing items such as large TV sets or flashy clothes when faced with such a threat over their heads, but apparently someone had held onto their sanity long enough to clear out the produce stores, which served more as a curse with nothing but ration bars for them to consume while in the desolate city. After the small parade of shops the street ended with an off ramp, leading down onto a wide highway, four lanes on each side. Michael gasped in shock when he saw how littered the road was with smashed vehicles and scattered car parts. One car sat in a smouldering wreck, ramped up on the dividing block between the two sides of the highway, while many other sat around it similarly, glass shattered and interiors shredded.
"I guess everyone panicked and tried to get out..." he said, Tom only looking over the destruction for a second before leading them down the ramp to the main body of the road. "They must have rioted when the traffic was jammed..."
"I don't think riot is the right word here..." Tom muttered, spotting a body trapped under an overturned car, long dead and lying bloated in the open air.
They continued down the highway, Tom receiving directions to take the second off ramp they came across as they moved down the road. The cars were packed tightly for the most part, some spaces hosting large pile ups where there had obviously been. The air was still, not a sound emanating from anywhere around them, the only thing they could hear being their feet shuffling along the asphalt. Melody kept looking around, stretching her head to search the roads which crossed overhead and the buildings which towered high to the side of the road, as if expecting something. She felt uncomfortable, anxious, but she could not see what it was that she should be anxious about. Gardevoir had always possessed clairvoyance, but it was never as clear as they hoped it was, only describing emotions and feelings to her, never giving a clear picture. She knew there was nothing she could do it stop what may come, she knew her clairvoyance was absolute, something that was unchangeable.
"Melody?..." Michael's voice broke her from her trance, the silence around her being shattered. "What's wrong? You look nervous..."
"There's...something here..." She said slowly, trying to so sound too panicked, not wanting the others to suddenly think they were under siege. "I don't know what it is...where it is..." Tom looked at her for a moment, turning to Layla.
"Can you sense anything?" he asked, looking around himself, trying to spot any movement in the dull, lifeless wasteland. They had just passed the first off ramp, the second being in sight straight ahead, letting him just make out the black sensor which sat by the side of it.
"Nothing...there is little aura around..." She said, scanning the area along with Tom. "The only aura I can sense...is..." She seemed confused for a moment; as if she had forgotten something or that something didn't make sense. With a smooth motion she grabbed Tom and yanked him sideways, behind one of the cars which littered the highway, doing the same for Michael and Melody. Michael winced as he hit his side on a bumper, wondering what was wrong. Tom quickly regained his bearings and crouched low behind the car.
"What happened? You told me there wasn't anything near." He asked quickly, Layla giving him a glare that told him to keep quiet.
"There wasn't...I don't know how but...someone suddenly appeared..." She said, closing her eyes to concentrate on the miniscule amount of aura around the area. The four dreadlock like columns of fur that hung from the rear of her head began to levitate slightly, a faint blue glow emanating from them. Tom had always though they were simply strands of fur, used for some obscure purpose, but now it seemed they acted almost like antenna, picking up on the mysterious energy Layla knew of called aura. In truth, Layla didn't know much about it either, she knew of no Lucario's who knew of it's true origin or purpose, only that it was there and she could use it to her advantage. She found herself in a dark area as she searched, having to rid herself of all other thoughts to delve deeper than just the surface of the world, the void ahead of her vast and seemingly endless. She looked deeply into the inky darkness, feeling isolated and...scared. She didn't often experience fear, but the feeling of utter lifelessness around her was something she had almost never felt, the area of darkness usually illuminated by vibrant blue as the aura from every living being coursed through the world. Her gaze caught sight of three small glows in the distance, something she had sensed before, faint as it was. They grew closer, aura flowing quickly, unfettered by their lack of ability. They had to be human, enemy or not, they were human.
"Three people are coming...they're not far from us and...they're moving fast." Layla said, opening her eyes, dazed by the light of the world for a second and having to shake her head to clear the blackness from her vision.
"Why would they still be here?..." Tom aid slowly. "They can't be trapped here...unless those space distortions Will told us about keep setting them back..."
"They could be trying to scavenge things from the city..." Michael said. Despite having seen the shops that had been broken into and raided, Tom shook his head, wishing he had a gun right now. He didn't have any time to think as the sudden roaring of an engine sounded in the distance.
They all poked their heads out, trying not to be seen by whoever was coming. They couldn't have been on the freeway, it was a scrap metal graveyard, and if they were coming from the side of the road then there was little hope for hiding. A pickup truck roared into view on the road elevated above the off ramp beyond them, three men sitting on the flatbed, each one dressed in army fatigues. But it was obvious these people were not a part of the army that had sent them in on this mission that was considered suicide, the bandanna's over their heads coloured a deep red or blue, marking them as people Michael wished he had never met. Members of Aqua and Magma. He knew that God must have been playing a cruel trick on him, not understanding how they could be here, sudden fear leaping into his hear at the idea of another confrontation. It seemed impossible and illogical why they would be here, being obvious why the organizations had kept their business to Hoenn, knowing they had easily conquered the region without giving the army time to respond.
"This place was supposed to be deserted..." Tom muttered quietly. The truck roared along the overpass and out of sight, but not before one of the men riding on the rear of the truck took a pot shot at the sensor lying at the base of the off ramp, cheering and hooting as he saw the bullets ricochet off the metal before the truck disappeared behind a building.
"They're armed, too..." Michael said, wishing things could be simple for once.
"Any idea why there're here?" Tom asked, getting up along with Layla and continuing to cautiously advance. Michael helped Melody up, who had been uncomfortably thrown to the ground, her dress now slightly dirty around the edge.
"They're insane to try staying here..." Michael said, turning his eyes to the blinding centre of the storm. "This place could go at any minute..."
"Not if Will's thought this through...he wants to know what's going on here, something he didn't tell that sergeant..." Tom assumed, hoping the old scientist knew what he was doing in leading a charge like this.
"Maybe they are...looking for whatever is causing this." Melody said, having the feeling of foreboding come over her again, the look drawing concern from Michael.
"Why would they want that?" Michael asked. He knew that the members of Aqua and Magma had seen the power that Palkia held, knowing that even they seemed shocked by the command the creature had held over the sky itself that night. The two groups could not have been stupid to have taken over Hoenn.
"They might want to keep this portal open..." She said, knowing where it could lead and what could be done if they were able to use it.
"Right, but we don't even know how they got here." Tom said, leading the group out of the wreckage of the freeway and up the off ramp. "For all we know they could be some thugs who were sent in a while ago and been forgotten about...they didn't seem organized." They reached the top of the ramp, quickly surveying the area for the vehicle that had appeared moments before, finding the street as barren and as grey as everything else in the city. The buildings had now grown in height, becoming skyscrapers, and offices for once successful companies that now sat with shattered windows and smashed concrete. Tom gave the casing of the sensor a quick look over once they were sure they were alone, again finding little fault except for the large dent caused by the recent bullet. The insides appeared fine, just like every other sensor they had come across. He was starting to believe Will more and more that something was up, something which kept the portal open, and something that would no doubt lead to trouble.
As Tom radioed the operator and received directions on where to go next, Melody and Layla were surveying the area with a great curiosity. It was not that they hadn't seen human dwellings and cities before, even in the wild they caught glimpses of the great towering buildings and complex systems which they created, but instead it was with a feeling they could not place. The area felt calm, sacred almost, but for whoever reason they could not tell. Perhaps it was the people and perhaps Pokémon who had died in this place, an abandoned city of the dead, or perhaps it was something more. Michael and Tom didn't share this feeling, the city seeming more like a Tomb to them, drawing them in deeper until the gates would shut and they would slowly choke within the concrete graveyard.
"No suspicious activity...out." Tom said, flicking off the radio again, motioning for the others to follow as he started off down the same street the car had sped down. "let's go..."
"Why didn't you tell them about what we saw?" Michael questioned, wondering exactly how many people remained in the city besides themselves.
"Because they'd pull us out..." Tom said, flexing his shoulders under the weight of the backpack. "Will was right...there's something here...it's not just the sensors that are the problem."
"Can you feel it?..." Melody asked, head down slightly, eyes half closed as she listened to the silence that hung in the streets. "It feels like...something is going to happen..."
"It's doomed city..." Michael said slowly. "Maybe you're feeling the calm before the storm..."
"Are we going to be in the middle of it?" She asked, fearing that when the time came for this city to die, they might die with it.
"Not if we can help it." Tom said, sighing as he looked into the grey sky. If it wasn't for the clock on the small screen of the radio, he would have no idea if it were night or day here. "Perhaps we should stop for a while, we've been walking for a while now..." It was not hard to find shelter, the storefronts and office doors being smashed and easily thrown open, allowing them to wander into one of the lobbies of the buildings lining the road.
Despite the broken glass and doorframe hanging off its hinges, the inside of the lobby looked as if it had been operating only hours ago. The red carpet remained clean, stretching out over the floor where benches and tables lay, a large marble desk sat at the end room against the wall, papers still strewn about it. Potted plants adorned the office along with paintings and posters that hung over the white plaster walls. Even if power remained in the city, Tom didn't trust the elevators to take them higher. They climbed the stairs to the third floor, finding offices left hastily, many personal effects remaining. Thankfully the floor also contained a break room, the couches inside serving as a welcome rest along, even finding the refrigerator was still operating. When Tom pried it open though, it was obvious that half the food was rotten, the stench making him quickly slam the door shut again, sighing and making his way to one of the couches to lie down.
"Do we have much food?" Layla asked as she sat cross-legged on the floor, having felt the gnawing in her stomach for a while now, though putting it off for the sake of watching out in the unknown land.
"Just some nutrient bars for us and some Pokémon food for you and Melody." He said, the thought of such food not doing anything to quell his hunger.
Melody had taken a place on the opposite couch with Michael next to her, now allowing him to sit closer to her without nervousness, letting her body relax into the soft leather upholstery, taking hold of a packet of Pokémon food which Tom handed to her. They all relaxed, eating their meals in silence, Michael grimacing slightly as he bit into the tasteless, stale nutrient bar. He knew he had no right to complain about the food in this time, but he would have at least preferred something that did not taste like cardboard and sour milk. He got up and left, leaving the bar on the couch as everyone watched him leave. They would have said something, thinking he was frustrated, if it were not for the sudden shattering of glass which came seconds later. Layla rose to her feet in an instant, making a leap over the couch and into the hallway outside the small break room followed by Tom, expecting to finally encounter something hostile up close. Tom almost laughed when he saw Michael brandishing a fire extinguisher, slamming it into the glass of a vending machine not far down the hall.
"Learning to be resourceful, I see." He said, Michael dropping the extinguisher and reaching past the now shattered glass to grab a few snacks, tossing three to Tom before taking a few for himself. They made their way back to the break room, Tom ripping the wrapping off of one of the bars and eagerly taking a bite. It was certainly better than a nutrient bar, even if it wasn't as good for him, he could forsake that for now.
Michael sat next to Melody, unwrapping a bar as Tom had done. He picked off a few squares of the thick chocolate and held them out to Melody.
"Do you want some?" He asked. He wasn't sure if Pokémon would like such foods, but he supposed it was curious to offer some anyway. Melody looked at the few squares he held, smelling the sweet aroma of the chocolate, the scent completely new to her.
"What is it?" She asked, taking one of the small blocks and looking a bit closer. "It...doesn't look very nice..."
"Human's call it chocolate, it's like a...treat, really." He said, stumbling a bit for the words to explain. "Humans don't eat as many berries as Pokémon...so something that tastes sweet is special to us."
"...what's it made of?" She asked, Michael being amused by herhe her inquisitiveness, trying to explain as best he could.
"There a plant called cocoa...and humans take the beans from the plant and crush them..." He started, realising immediately after that it was all he knew of how the stuff was really made. "Then...well, honestly I don't know what happens...you might want to eat it now." Melody looked back at the piece of chocolate, now slightly melted in her hand, leaving a mark on her palm. She put the piece in her mouth, finding the flavour oddly sweet and savoury at the same time, not sweet like a berry with it's sharp tang but sweet like a mellow moment of contentedness.
"It's nice...but I don't think I'll have more..." She said, taking the small packet of Pokémon food again. It wasn't a berry but she now knew it wasn't as tasteless as it looked. "It seems like something special..."
"A lot of people give it to other as a gift, like an expression of..." Michael paused for a moment, looking at the wrapper in his hand. "Love...it's not just a food all the time"
"Eat too much and you're going to get out of shape." Tom said, laughing a bit as he patted Layla's head, a gesture she didn't exactly feel accustomed too but still enjoyed the contact. "Sometimes people let others go because they're too out of shape, it's ironic." Layla pushed her head against Tom's hand gently, liking the feeling of his hand rubbing her fur, but also wincing at the slight grit which rubbed against her flesh under the fur.
"Is there anywhere to wash here?..." She asked, her fur noticeably dishevelled and shining slightly more with accumulated grime and sweat, beginning to feel more conscious of her own body with the action dulled around her.
"There's probably some bathrooms around here. If they don't have a shower they'll at least have a sink or two..." Tom said, stretching as he rose, looking over at Michael and Melody.
"are you two planning on washing up as well? It might be the last chance for a while." He said, Layla standing beside him, smoothing the fur on her head which had stuck out after Tom's hand had raked through it.
"We'll wait for you two..." Michael said, Melody nodding with him. Tom rolled his eyes slightly with a smile, walking out into the corridor with Layla.
The company seemed to provide well for its employees, which worked for Tom and Layla as they found a small gym room two floors above where they had been, showers off to the right. They both entered, Tom reaching up to one of the knobs next to the shower heads, hoping the water in the city had not been turned off. The reward was a jet of hot water and steam filling the cubicle of the shower, forcing him to turn it off again to avoid scalding himself.
"At least it works..." he said, standing back. A few lockers stood in the corner of the gym which he had raided, managing to find some clean towels for the both of them, throwing one which had been draped over his shoulder to Layla. He started off to another cubicle further down the line. "This'll at least help us relax...we might need it soon."
"Tom?..." Layla called before he could enter one of the stalls, nervous and slightly edgy. "I can't reach..." she stumbled off mid-sentence, unwilling to say what she was planning to say. Tom walked back to her, bending down slightly to match her height, Layla being about half a metre shorter than him.
"You want to shower with me?" Tom asked bluntly. Layla would've rolled her eyes at the forwardness if it were not for the fluster that came over her, grunting in annoyance and nodding.
"Yes...that may help..." She said, closing her eyes in slight agitation. She didn't like the way the idea made her seem incapable of washing herself.
She stepped into the shower with Tom, both standing awkwardly for a moment, Tom finally clearing his throat a little before sliding off his shirt. Layla did not exactly understand what humans found attractive in one another, as she had heard the oddest stories about their lives from various Pokémon who had observed them closely, but she suspected if they viewed strength and wisdom in their relationships as much as her own kind did, Tom may have been a top pick for any female. She didn't care about the muscles that showed through his arms or stomach, knowing from experience that such things were useless unless one knew how to use them, the reason why even the oldest Lucario was considered attractive when he could easily defeat younger and more virile ones in combat. But from what she had seen of him and he of her, and of what he had told her as well as what she had told him, was what drew her to him and what caused the feelings of intimacy to flourish inside of her. She had been so lost in thought that it was only now she felt the hot water running down her fur, warmth clinging beneath it, now moving her hands to start massaging the dirt out of it the way she always did. Although it brought a flush to both of their faces, Tom laid his hands on her shoulders, helping to rub away the dirt as well as the tension in her body. The act lost its awkwardness as he continued, reminding them both of how they were at the camp before Michael had shown up, Layla's eyes half closed as Tom massaged her shoulders and stomach in a trance.
Her mind wandered in the steam which flowed through the air, so like the patterns of aura she often saw dancing in the blackness of the world, panting in the heat of the moment. She was no stranger to nudity, it was a human concept within the Pokémon world, clothes being something only humans and very select Pokémon adorned themselves with. But now without clothes it was an almost exciting chance to see the true human form, something hidden away as if forbidden, and now something that made her feel anxious. She sighed and moaned, perhaps a bit too loudly, as Tom massaged the muscles on her stomach and legs. He leaned down to kiss her, something brought on by the heat of the moment, ensuring both of them that now it was no longer simple washing. Her eyes turned to the steam around them again, twisting and turning like the aura she felt flowing around the world...aura that seemed to flow from outside the building.
She suddenly realised that the darkness she had experience before had been broken, streams of fast flowing aura coursing through her sense, quickened like the water that ran down her fur. She pushed Tom away, seeing the almost disappointed look on his face replaced by only a second of hurt, but it did not matter to her right now. Tom was about to ask what was wrong when he saw the intense look of peace that had come over her face, body still in the steam of water that came from above, realising something was wrong as the four furred bulbs along the back of her head began to levitate. She stared intently into the blackness that surrounded her like a sudden Smokey veil, whipping her head around to catch a glimpse of what she had sensed for a moment, and saw it within seconds. Below them, between the blocks of dead concrete that made up this city, five bright lights burned as they threw off streams of pulsating blue aura. Humans, but she expected nothing less now. But as to what they were planning, she could not say, as they stood still outside the building as if observing it. She opened her eyes again, letting Tom's worried face fill her vision.
"We might not be safe here..." She said, fiddling with the lock on the stall door but managing to get it open, taking her towel with her. Tom shut the shower off, quickly following Layla as he scooped up his clothes and towel.
"What happened?" He asked firmly, attempting to dry quickly as Layla seemed intent on leaving as soon as possible now.
"Five humans are on the street below us..." She said unsurely, not knowing if she was acting too rashly or not, but she thought that in this case it would be best to listen to her instincts. "...do you think they followed us?"
"Maybe, but they would've acted sooner if they did and were armed..." He said, throwing on his shirt and sparing a few buttons as he did it up. Layla's fur was still damp, but it was something that didn't matter now, simply towelling off as much as she could before they made their way out of the showers, leaving the towels in on the floor. "Were trapped here if they manage to get inside, we'd have no choice but to go higher until we reach the roof. We're going to get Michael and Melody, then try slip out of the back of the building if they haven't started moving by then." By this time they were practically running down the hallways, past offices and bounding down flights of stairs.
"What if they start moving before we get that far?" Layla asked, rounding the corner to the break room, bursting in on Michael with Melody laying her head on his legs, both surprised by the sudden entrance.
"We just hope they don't..." He said, turning to the two on the couch. "Get your pack, we're leaving, don't question this..." His sternness shocked them into obedience, Melody quickly moving off of Michael, disappointed they did not get to clean up as well. What she felt though, the foreboding which she had felt earlier, seemed to be evident on Tom's face. Michael grabbed her hand and quickly led her out with Tom and Layla as they started down the hallway. They ran, following Tom, barrelling down the stairs and nearly tripping as they hit the second floor. Tom did not lead them to the next stairwell, risking a quick look through one of the office windows looking down into the street.
Five men stood, surveying the surrounding area, each armed with a high powered weapon. But they were not aqua or magma, instead they wore army fatigues, thickly padded with Kevlar. Suddenly one of the men pulled a radio to his ear, speaking quickly and instantly motioning to the other four. The four moved quickly away, right under Tom's view and into the building. Tom swore under his breath, motioning to the others to follow as he made his way up the stairs again.
"They've started moving, dammit!" he growled, leading the group higher and higher up the building, soon feeling the aching in his legs as he forced his way up the flights of stairs. Michael was a flight behind, not used to running this intensely, breathing heavily as he tried to catch up.
They stopped on what appeared to be the tenth floor of the building, Tom resting his legs and panting, Layla the same. Melody, despite her levitation, grew flustered with the speed in which they had to travel, gently giving Michael a boost to join them as she lifted him the next flight of stairs. They knew that beneath them the men who had been sent in were fanning out, searching the building. Tom was lost on how they found them, or why they seemed part of the army rather than the unified gangs, remembering how they had been told the army did not risk going into the city. Nevertheless, they could not risk being caught by anyone.
"Are we just going to keep moving up?" Michael asked, leaning over the railing of the stairwell and looking far up into the twisting flights that stretched for at least twenty more floors. "We'll hit the roof soon enough..."
"I know, but if they're purposely looking for someone right now then they're hopefully combing the floors. We'll have some time to think of something while they look..." Tom said, starting up the stairwell again, slower this time as not to wear everyone out again.
"Do the elevators work?" Michael asked, Tom wishing it was as easy as that.
"If the electricity works then the elevators probably would..." He said, looking towards the large metals doors which stood next to the stairwell as they reached the top of another flight. "But we can't take them; they'd know when they see the floor display working..."
"Send one down then." Michael said, stopping Tom before he could climb another flight, Tom looking at him oddly. "They'll think someone's heading for the bottom floor and all go there." Tom looked Michael over again, admiring the thought and appreciating how resourceful he seemed right now, but ultimately sighing as he answered.
"Once they see it's empty they'll rush to where it was sent from, just showing them where we were." He said, climbing the stairs again, Layla growing tired from the journey now, being much shorter with a dislike of heights to boot. "We couldn't take it without being noticed either..." he stopped himself after that sentence, mid stride on the stairs as an idea hit him. He laughed out loud at the idea, looking back at Michael with an admirable smile.
"But what if they didn't see us!" He said excitedly, moving to the elevator and looking at the display, finding which floor it was parked on. "Michael, you've got half the plan...and I've just figured out the other half!" He quickly started up the stairs again, the others struggling to keep up. "seventeenth floor, that's where we're going..."
They ran five flights of stairs, unsure of what this plan was, but not having anywhere else to go. By the end of the run they were all tired, Tom included, but stumbled to the elevator. Tom pressed the button, the door dinging and sliding open. Tom beckoned everyone inside, closing the door afterwards, the others giving him odd looks. He looked above them, surveying the ceiling panels of the elevator, finding one in the corner and quickly balancing himself on the railing as he grabbed at it. Pushing up, straining against the panel, feeling it rattle under his hands.
"Secured shut…" he muttered. He looked at Melody, motioning to the panel. "There's a hatch here, there's latches on the other side, can you somehow flip those…psychically?". Melody looked at where Tom was pushing, closing her eyes and letting her mind clear from the adrenaline of the escape.
"I'll try…" She said, reaching out with her mind and feeling all around the area where she had been directed. In times where she could not even see what she was meant to be moving she was no better than blind, her mind touching the rough edges of the elevator cart, feeling the rough metal as if she had placed her hands onto it. She felt four small tabs, loose and easily moved, despite the grit that had gathered under them from years in the dank environment. Tom kept pushing as she flipped them away, soon letting him break through and flip the hatch open, laughing at his success.
"Great work…" Michael said, watching Tom crawl through the hatch and into the elevator shaft, Melody opening her eyes again to see him.
"Thank you…" He said happily, glad she was so apart of this, even if it did make her slightly nervous.
"You two, come on, grab my hand and pull yourselves up." Tom called through the hatch, reaching his hand down. Melody motioned forward to Michael, letting him move forward first and grab Tom's hand as he stood on the rails, letting himself be helped through the shaft. The grime and grease on the car stained his shirt and hands, the shaft dark and smelling of oil, the air hot and thick, almost hard to breathe. Melody levitated higher, seeming to hoist herself up without help through the hatch and settling beside Michael, looking up fearfully at the shaft which seemed to stretch forever.
"Here's what we're going to do…" Tom began, steadying himself on the cart. "We're going to send this to the bottom floor while we're up here, with the hatch closed. They'll see it coming and most likely send at least some of their men down to search the elevator. When they see there's no one in here, they're going to check the floor it came from, that's when we get out and try get out the back of the building…"
"How do you know they'll all rush to this floor?" Michael asked
"I don't, but it's all we have to go on right now…" he said, looking back into the cart through the hatch. "Melody, push the first floor button…". Melody reached out again with her mind, this time preforming the task in a near instant without having to concentrate.
The cart shuddered to life, suddenly dropping faster than anyone had expected. Melody nearly fell, her becoming disorientated as her levitation failed her, Michael suddenly grabbing her and pulling her back to her feet. Layla gasped and had to steady herself, not liking the idea of plunging from a height unknown to her on a surface so small, walls racing past her. They all couched low, Tom quickly flipping the hatch shut along with the latches, waiting as he kneeled close to the rusty metal exterior of the cart. Within a minute the cart began to slow, quickly decelerating until it gently crawled into place, the doors dinging as they opened. There appeared to be no one waiting for them, but they waited, listening closely to the sounds below them. Over the creaking and grinding inside the shaft of the elevator, they heard shouts and footsteps, soon settling outside the elevator. The doors opened once again, the soldiers pausing obviously as they surveyed the elevator cart, empty of anything. One spoke, his voice unable to be complete made out above the grinding gears and noise around the four, but followed by footsteps up the stairs that twisted beside the elevators. Then there was silence, horrible silence that filled them with both dread and hope, Tom silently removing the latches of the maintenance hatch and creaking it open. The car seemed abandoned, the door still open, and the outside clear. However he soon saw the solider who stood outside of the doors with his back against the wall next to the doors, as well as the automatic rifle he held, able to take them down in a few seconds. He shut the hatch, turning to Layla.
"…I'm going to go down there, there's one solider…" He said, continuing before Layla could object. "Follow me, and stay quiet…we can get him away quietly if we're careful." Layla knew the rashness in the plan, but Tom's eyes held the same glow in them from when they had fought before, the glow that had returned from his mercenary life that told her he knew he could get through this. She nodded and followed his lead.
Tom opened the hatch silently, lowering himself onto the rails and then onto the ground with slow steps, not a sound coming from the cart. Layla was next, moving as Tom moved towards the solider, leaning against the wall of the car. Layla lowered herself down, but her footing slipped, her height betraying her as she tried to save face and land softly, rattling the cart with a thud. Whipping around, the soldier's sudden movement placed a rifle in Tom's face, eyes darting between the two and about to pull the trigger. Tom's hand came up, slapping the barrel way and pushing the rifle into the shoulders chest, both hands rising and quickly delivering two open strikes to the head. For a moment the soldier was disorientated, Tom yanking the gun away from his chest, tearing it away from his hands and turning it back on the soldiers face, a loud bang erupting along with a sudden splash of warmth over Tom's face. It happened in only two seconds, looking as if Tom had simply slapped the man repeatedly as Layla watched, the bang erupting and the soldier falling back onto the floor, a stain of red over the white wall behind him. Shock didn't have time to register in his mind, a sudden shot firing through the air and a yell from outside. He ducked back inside the elevator, firing a few shots in return. One of the men, most likely the leader of the squad, ducked behind the truck that the soldiers had arrived in, yelling into his radio as he shot back. Michael and Melody were pulled down from the elevator shaft, Tom grabbed Layla as she hugged against the wall reflexively and pulling her along with him as he made a break for it.
"Run!" He yelled, The two still in the elevator not needing to be told twice. They took off along with Tom, sprinting down the hallway towards a supposed freedom. Michael found himself running faster than he ever had, or could, the fact that his legs were making strides three times they long as his step was not normal either. Melody levitated beside him, her body letting of the tell-tale glow of an active psychic, carried him along with herself. Tom led them through the hallways of the building, soon coming to offices with a lovely view of the gravel alley behind the place. The butt of Tom's new rifle crashed through the glass, his stride only slowing a fraction as he threw himself through the shattered window with Layla, Michael and Melody close behind. His mind was made up as they took the alleyway back to the main road, running across the street to a great concrete block of a building, a parking garage.
"Are any of these cars going to even work?" Michael called as they cleared the barrier at the entrance, looking at the mess of cars that sat inside the building, some crashed and wrapped around the thick concrete pylons that lined the buildings. The building smelt of damp stone and oil, fumes from petrol spilled to the ground poisoning the air.
"You're catching on faster, good!" Tom called back, scanning the car park as he ran, looking for a car that was not damaged to the point of uselessness. "Check any vehicle that looks like it might work, the faster we find one the better…" He made his way to one rusted old car, red paint only blemished by a large dent in the front bumper, ramming his rifle butt into the driver side window.
"We don't have any keys…" Michael said, nevertheless grabbing a small brick from the rubble that lay about and driving it into the driver window of the car only a short while away.
"Under the dashboard, red to yellow, if it doesn't work then move onto the next one!" Tom called, having thrown himself under the dashboard, tearing away the fake leather interior, exposing the wires of the ignition system for him. Layla herself could not understand exactly how to do it, instead just smashing the windows of various cars that looked undamaged, her fists being too fragile for the job, using the spike adorned the rear of her palms to shatter the glass.
Michael worked as fast as his hands would let him, smashing windows and tearing away interior to find the red and yellow wires, praying that they would ignite the engine. Each try was met with a sputter of a dead engine or a spark but no roar of life, draining the hope that they would live through this further and further. Sudden shouts from outside stopped them, Tom throwing himself from under the dash board and motioning for the ramp to the next level, taking off just as the 4 soldiers who had been searching for them suddenly rounded the corners, guns raised. Michael and Melody moved quickly, Melody's levitation boosting his movement again, but not without toll. Michael could see the tiredness in her body, the lines of stress on her face as he lifted him along with her. She was so light that Michael could only guess it was as she was carrying three of herself when he levitated him at the rate she did now. Tom ran for a car opposite the ramp, rear bumper and window shattered, smashing the window and turning to Michael and Melody who were following. Melody's levitation failed as she gasped in exhaustion, Michael's momentum carrying him forward and throwing him to the ground in front of Tom. He disregarded it, dropping the high calibre rifle into Michaels hands.
"Keep them off us until I can get this to work…" he said, the steps of the soldiers along the ramp reminding him of every second that was wasted.
Michael scrambled to his feet, side of his face in pain from the sudden fall, the feeling of blood dripping down his cheek nothing compared to the fear and adrenaline he felt right now. The soldiers rounded the corner and he raised the gun, firing a burst of shots that sent the soldiers back behind cover, he himself ducking behind the open door. Melody and Layla lay behind the hood of the car, Layla trying to calm Melody, letting her emotions flow into her as Melody held Layla's hand gently, finding the exchange of fear and the rush of calmness coming easier when another Pokémon was the conduit. The moment one of the soldiers stepped from behind the wall, Michael fired, sending him back behind cover. He knew he couldn't fire forever, and that fear grew when he actually hit a solider dead in the chest, only to have him drag himself back behind the wall of concrete, Kevlar jacket having saved him from a sudden and painful death.
Melody and Layla jumped when they heard the roar of the engine, the car shuddering to life behind them. Tom pulled himself up quickly, gripping the wheel as he slid into the seat, swinging open the passenger doors for the others. Michael fired a few more shots, trying to make sure the soldiers didn't attempt to attack them while they entered the car, sliding into the front seat and after Melody and Layla jumped into the back. Tom sped off before Michael could even close his door, reversing and swinging the car around, speeding towards the ramp to freedom. The soldiers reacted too slow, running out of their shelter to find tonnes of steel rushing towards them, lowering their guns and throwing themselves to the sides of the ramp. One man wasn't fast enough, a look of horror on his face as he was thrown against the wall of the ramp as Tom sped past, his bones breaking with a sickening crunch as he was pushed against the sides of the passage, far too small to hold both of them.
Tom drove on as the soldier rolled to the floor behind the car, shattering the wooden barrier, the car dented enough that it no longer mattered. Michael sunk back into his seat, the rifle in his hand now empty, falling against the door. He ran his hands over his hair, the adrenaline high coming down and leaving him about to crash into the hard ground of reality. Layla sat in the back with Melody, the two seeming to converse silently through their own means, cutting the others from the conversation. It wasn't often they had spoken to each other, Layla content to stay alongside Tom and Melody forcing herself to remain close to Michael to give him a chance at finding her again, but when they did it was never the same as the last time. To Layla, Melody was always alight with emotion, even if she didn't show it as openly as she could, and to Melody, Layla was someone who bottled herself for the good of everyone. But even then, Melody was jealous she could not see why Tom and Layla had been so attracted, sad that she could not figure it out, and almost angry at herself for every initiating a bond with Michael. The road flashed by as they drove, a dulling monotony of concrete and pretty store fronts that served to calm Melody, Michael wondering what the road would have looked like if it were new and alive, Layla not understanding the functions behind everything she saw. Tom was tense, as he always was when he knew something was up, a gut feeling that had developed from years of work doing things that would have him committed as a psychopath in every country.
He turned a corner, hoping to make his path not as obvious as a straight line from the garage where they had escaped the soldiers, but his eyes widened as he turned, slamming the brakes and twisting the steering wheel as hard as he could. The car swerved, Melody calling out in shock from the back as she and Layla were thrown across the rear seat, Michael holding onto the seat as he saw what lay ahead. The same truck which the soldiers had been transported in swerved past, only inches from a collision. Their car spun, Tom straining to regain control but to no avail, Michael receiving a full view of the great brick wall that raced to meet them. His body was thrown before he could think, metallic crunching and crashing exploding into his ears, his body weightless for a moment. His head hit something hard, the dashboard he assumed, feeling no pain from the blow but instead a dullness that spread thought his head. His ears rang, sound around him muffled as he strained to turn his head after the movement had stopped. Melody lay against the window of the rear seat, a spreading crack visible on the glass as her head rested against it. He tried to reach out a hand, the one which was not trapped under him, desperately reaching to wake Melody. But his strength failed him, his hand falling as if a string had snapped from supporting it, landing on something soft. His head slumped, the darkness crowding his vision as he saw his hand resting on Layla's fur, sprawled over the small floor in front of the back seat, eyes half open as she failed to hang onto consciousness. Dull pain pulsed through his head as he finally surrendered to the nothingness that came next.
He awoke slowly and painfully, the throbbing in his head that he had felt seemingly moments before now like a hammer blow to his mind whenever he moved. The pain dulled as he lay there, unable to tell how long it took until he could even raise his head without blacking out from blinding pain. It was dark, the air smelt damp and ripe, filling with nose with a musty scent. The ground beneath him felt hard and rough like stone while the air was still, only the occasional drip sounding through wherever he was. He pulled himself up, falling flat on his back when he found his hands shackled to something, cold steel biting into his wrist as he moved. He sighed, wincing at the pain in his skull as the memories of what had happened came back to him. They had crashed and he had hit his head, the sudden realisation making his heart jump, terror racing through his mind.
"Melody…" He called out weakly, his throat feeling parched, fuzziness still hanging around the edges of his mind and slurring his speech. He struggled in the shackles that held him, his hand brushing a soft cloth behind him. He grabbed at it, blind in the darkness, feeling the flesh and muscles that lay under it.
"Tom…" He said, doing the best he could with his cuffed hands, trying to find Tom's face. He was still unconscious, otherwise he would have reacted the second Michael awoke, as was his mind set. Michael slapped Tom's face slightly with his free hand, trying to shake him awake. "Tom, wake up, come on…". It wasn't long before Tom shifted, his eyes opening unknown to Michael who was still slapping his face in an effort to awaken him. Tom reached up with his free hand and moved Michaels hand away, groaning as he sat up in the darkness, the only thing Michael could hear being the shifting of his clothes.
"It's fine…I'm awake…" He said dispiritedly, pulling at the metal shackle on his arm, sighing when he remembered what had happened and where they must be. "Goddammit, they got us…" Michael sat back against the wall, propping his hands on his knees and dropping his head.
"Do you know who they were?..." He asked, his voice filled with a mixture of pain and dryness, not bothering to look at Tom, knowing it would make little difference. Tom ran a hand through his damp hair, feeling the bruise around his right forehead.
"They were trained…and they were organized too, must've known we were in that building." Tom said, finding it hard to reason in such a situation. "They could be from the army…maybe not the one we met, the national army…perhaps they're private…" Tom at least knew how to reason with private armies and mercenaries, but he wondering if he could pull it off after all the years.
"…Do we even know where we are…and…what happened?" Michael asked, annoyed and angry with the whole situation, fed up of it already.
"You must've not seen, must've blacked out…maybe my head is a bit harder than yours." Tom said, humourlessly, taking a breath as he scanned the room for anything. "We nearly hit them and swerved into a wall…but the street wasn't the one I had turned onto, and one of the soldiers said something about of us 'coming out of nowhere'…I was half conscious for some of the journey, after they had dragged us into their car and took off…all I saw were those large skyscrapers above me." He growled in frustration "It was a bloody distortion or whatever that sodding old man calls it…chose to screw us over at the last minute." Michael leaned his head back against the cool stone of the wall behind him.
"So what do we do?..." he asked, Tom's silence being enough to answer his question. There was no escape from this, at least not right now, but he wondered if this time they had really been done in. The men who held them now were different from the others. Trained and discipline, they were no longer dealing with thugs who would charge you as fast as you could glance at them.
A sudden metallic twisting echoed through the room, the stone walls bouncing it around them, a flood of light coming from the left of the two as metal scrapped against the stone floor. The light blinded them, leaving the figure in the doorway silhouetted against the harsh background, tall and build strongly. He man spoke, almost calmingly, and Tom recoiled at the voice that slid through the air like snake oil.
"You won't be leaving soon…not after the time it took me to find you again…" The man said, the light fading to reveal his full, muscled form. With a head shaved near bald and skin tanned under the unforgiving sun of many a wasteland. "I think we got off on the wrong foot last time…"
"…why…are you so goddamn stubborn!" Tom yelled, knowing that he should very well be dead after what had happened so long ago to him. "Sting…always the one who got the job done…"
"Always…that shrapnel did some nasty work on me…" He said, unzipping the padded vest to reveal a deep and jagged scar in the centre of his chest, a blemish of pink flesh against his brown tone. "But you know how hard it was to kill one of us, you're a testimony to that…"
"How?" Tom demanded, voice strong as if trying to rebuke the demon who stood in front of him.
"You're friend there…doesn't know much about the anatomy of the body, and he calls himself an artist…what I do is art…" He smirked, a venomous smile that could chill a room.
"You know who I am?..." Michael asked, Sting turning his head to look directly into Michaels eyes, faded blue meeting a dead brown.
"I don't kill without knowing my targets…" He said, putting his hands out in a casual gesture. "The chaos in government made it easier to get information on everyone from certain friends…" He turned back to Tom. "But, back to how I died and rose on the third day…" Sting seemed to have no qualms mocking the peaceful profession Tom had taken up after his dark career.
"I couldn't fight like that, but I could live, the heart is on the left side, not the centre…" He said, drawing a finger over the scar. "I managed to stop the bleeding enough for me to find my way back to the vehicle I had picked up…I drove for half an hour with a jagged piece of metal hanging from my torso, until I found the army setting up another roadblock. They thought I was a civilian, and treated me there. While I was there, I heard they had found something, something related to the things happening around the world. I managed to secure some weaponry, particulary the knife they gave me to eat rations with, bad idea on their part. I hid under one of the covered benches in their transport van. I heard it before I saw it, you know the sound, that whistling and roaring in the air…" he smiled, a macabre grin as he recalled the next part. "The soldiers filed out, but the last one was young, slow and new to the service. I killed him, slit his neck right from behind, then killed the rest with his own weapon before they could even think about what had happened. The driver survived, I made sure of that, but he wasn't eager to chase me into that portal. Do you know how it feels to go through one of those things? It feels like you're king of everything, you can go anywhere and kill anyone. So…I arrived, but not where I hoped, more specifically in that region they called Hoenn. Civil war had broken out, which was prefect for me, letting me make my mark to present to the two clients who became interested in me…after I shot one of their high ranking officers, his Pokémon too. After that, I was practically in command of their movements, and after seeing my results, the officers decided it was best not to object to what I said, it never ended well for anyone…"
"Are those men who took us Aqua, or Magma?..." Michael said, oddly finding his voice in the situation. The names meant so little and so much to him. He didn't care who they were, but after what had happened to Melody and Valerie, they sparked something in him. A fear that was followed by anger and primal rage, making him want to get rid of them just to be safe again.
"They're not either of those little gangs, they're marines…" he said with a proud smirk. "Walked right into our camp when we were assaulting Rustboro, and I knew the man leading them had something he wanted done, something he needed…so I talked to them. Idiots had been sent into one of the portals by that equally stupid government, and it had closed right behind them. Of course they had no problem with helping us…in fact they though if it would help them get the rioting under control so they weren't a 'threat to national security'…idiots still thought their country meant something here!" He laughed, unafraid of anyone hearing his words. None exactly had the courage to stand up to him. "I sent men to capture that temple on the road to Treefort, it would've made a great place to round up people on the road…then you came along. I heard about you from one of the men who fled that camp, after the officer of that group was killed. You went back to Treefort, obvious move, then you fled somewhere across the mainland..."
"How did you know we would come here?..." Tom spat. Although Sting was killed, clairvoyance was beyond him.
"I didn't." he said simply. "You were headed to the mainland, and that gave me an excuse to capture this city. More of our men are coming soon, and when we have the number, we'll simply exterminate the armed forced that have set up that perimeter. It wasn't hard to make our way in here, and it's only going to be easier getting out…"
"What's so special about this city? It's destroyed!" Tom said, none of this making sense. Why would he come here if it wasn't for him, why would he occupy a destroyed city with no resources, why was he still alive?
"It's almost destroyed…" He said smugly, leaning right down to Tom's level and meeting his face. "You know about these portals , don't you? You know about what would happen if this one closes, don't you?...there's something protecting it, Tom." Tom spat into Stings face, hating him for even using his name. Sting didn't move, not even a twitch. "You're just a bonus, him too, and those two Pokémon…I'm told they're rare, so they might make some money, or we could use them as target practice if no one buys their sorry hides…" Sting suddenly jerked to the side, Michaels foot impacting on his face, mild surprise and amusement on his face as he took a step back. He straightened up, looking at Michael expectantly. "Have some fight in you?"
"Kill me and kill everyone here, kill this entire worthless region, but if they die…" Michael raised his head, his dishevelled hair running like rivulets down his face, staring at the man above him with only his desperation and anger to fuel his courage. "God help you if they die…" Sting looked amused for a moment, contemplating the threat. The agile man took a step forward and drove his boot into Michael's face, a loud crack echoing through the chamber as his head met the stone wall.
"Leave him out of this!" Tom yelled, Sting giving one more kick to accentuate his point as he turned to Tom.
"An eye for an eye, isn't that one of your proverbs you learnt, preacher man?" He taunted, making a start towards Tom, fist meeting Tom's face in an instant. "Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your lips are full of lies, and your mouth spews corruption! Isn't that one of your verses? You're as evil as me, you try to hide it but it always comes back!" Sting would have been throwing Tom around the cell if it were not for the shackles that kept Tom pinned to the wall. A single soldier, dressed just as the ones who had assaulted their hideout only hours before, appeared in the doorway, speaking loudly to be heard over Sting's laughter and rambling.
"S-Sir! The commander needs to see you!" He stuttered, speaking clearly like a trained solider, voice solid if not a little nervous. Sting drew himself back up, leaving Tom on his side, bleeding from his nose. "H-He may have found what you wanted…" Sting looked down at Tom almost disappointedly, walking out of the door, shoving the soldier aside.
"I'll have some fun later…" He called, laughing darkly as the soldier closed the door behind him, looking at the two captors with a hint of relief, turning and following Sting down the hall.
Tom lay on the ground, his nose feeling hot from what was sure was a break, Michael leaning back against the wall of the cell, his head swimming from the blow, threatening to plunge him into unconsciousness again. They did not know where they were or what time it was, they could not even see their own prison, the only light coming from the small slit in the doorway, showcasing two pathetic looking men on the verge of collapse, no energy left for this world, surrounded by lonely darkness.